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Not for Everyday Use


A riveting memoir in which Nunez comes to grips with her mother’s passing and her parents’ ambition for their children.

$15.95 $11.96

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What people are saying…

Winner of the 2015 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award in Nonfiction

Longlisted for the 2015 OCM Bocas Prize in Nonfiction

One of Oprah.com’s Best Memoirs of the Year

One of The Skanner‘s Best Black Books of 2014

One of Oprah.com’s “Memoirs Too Powerful to Put Down”

“Nunez ponders the cultural, racial, familial, social, and personal experiences that led to what she ultimately understands was a deeply loving union between her parents. A beautifully written exploration of the complexities of marriage and family life.”
Booklist (starred review)

“Through her thoughtful and articulate writing, Nunez offers a valuable perspective on the racism that she experienced, even in America, and the damage the Catholic Church does to women who follow the ‘no artificial birth control’ rule. Recommended for memoir enthusiasts and readers interested in Caribbean literature.”
Library Journal

“An intriguing . . . courageous memoir.”
Kirkus Reviews

“A narrative that feels like a close friend talking about her past . . . An insightful, generous story.”

“Nunez reflects on her mother’s legacy as she works through her grief, and demonstrates mastery of her craft.”
Huffington Post

“A powerful memoir . . . this non-fiction narrative pulls the curtain back upon the Caribbean woman known as writer, mother, sister and wife . . . Definitely peruse how this writer’s narrative plays out.”

“Self-effacing and honest, Nunez gives listeners a unique window onto a foreign world.”
AudioFile Magazine, Earphones Award Review of audiobook edition narrated by Elizabeth Nunez

“A celebration of understanding and empathy.”
Chicago Center for Literature and Photography

“When a writer like Elizabeth Nunez, who has spent her career unraveling the romances we tell ourselves about our native Caribbean, migrates from the novel to the memoir, readers are eager to discover what boundaries of both genre and familial privacy she will disrupt. Not for Everyday Use is a loving disruption. Through the prism of her parents’ enviable marriage—more than half a century—Nunez intimately explores a changing colonial landscape and attitudes about race, reproduction, and the meaning of family.”
Review: Literature of the Arts of the Americas no. 91

“Readers and writers of US ethnic literatures will find Nunez’ voicing of immigrant sentiments familiar, eloquent, and distinctive.”
La Bloga

“I loved Not for Everyday Use by Elizabeth Nunez . . . a must read.”
Carry On Friends

“A sensitive memoir . . . The Caribbean is home for many excellent writers, and Elizabeth Nunez is one of the best.”
Me, You, and Books

Not for Everyday Use is a gorgeous tapestry of mourning and redemption. Nunez is an astonishing writer, approaching the page with both skill and heart. Her memories are well-deep and love-strong. With insights that are both sharp and tender, this is a memoir that will change the way you understand your family, and the world.”
—Tayari Jones, author of Silver Sparrow

“Elizabeth Nunez has written a book about love: love of family, love of place, love of literature, and even the love of human flaws. Not for Everyday Use manages to be a memoir rich with tenderness that doesn’t shy away from pain and loss. Reading this book was like sitting with a dear friend for a long conversation and only later realizing I’d been in the presence of a true artist. It’s not easy to sound casual but attain the profound yet somehow Nunez pulls it off, page after page.”
—Victor LaValle, author of The Devil in Silver

“At the heart of this memoir are the moving portraits of parents. Elizabeth Nunez, in a clear, unsentimental, hard-hitting, and direct voice, skillfully structures the story of a mixed-race Portuguese and Trinidadian Roman Catholic family around the preparations for her mother’s funeral, exploring their ancestry, their survival, and success in a British colony during its journey toward independence and beyond, finding a way through its complex racial history. Also, at the heart of this story is the relationship between a mother and a daughter, a daughter who leaves home as a young girl to continue her education and make her life in the United States of America. Some of the most poignant moments are those in which the author describes her feelings of belonging and not belonging to ‘home.’ This is a story that will speak both to Caribbean people ‘at home’ and those who have left to make their home elsewhere.”
—Lawrence Scott, author of Light Falling on Bamboo

“Elizabeth Nunez’s Not for Everyday Use is that powerful and essential work which redefines our understanding of the experience of emigration and its impact on families. It is, quite simply, one of the most important books I’ve read about the intellectual and emotional work we must do to understand our forebears’ lives in the context of history and colonialism.”
—Louise DeSalvo, author of Writing as a Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives

“Elizabeth Nunez is one of the finest and most necessary voices in contemporary American and Caribbean fiction.”
—Colum McCann, author of Let the Great World Spin

“Ms. Nunez has always had the power to get to the essence of what makes human beings take right and wrong turns. With Boundaries, a reader will find that she, again, does not disappoint.”
—Edward P. Jones, author of The Known World

“A new book by Elizabeth Nunez is always excellent news.”
Edwidge Danticat

Critical Praise for Boundaries by Elizabeth Nunez (A finalist for the 2012 NAACP Image Award in Literature):

“Many moments of elegant, overarching insight bind the personal to the collective past.”
New York Times Book Review (Editors’ Choice)

Critical Praise for Anna In-Between by Elizabeth Nunez (Winner of the 2010 PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Award; Longlisted for the 2011 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award):

“A psychologically and emotionally astute family portrait, with dark themes like racism, cancer, and the bittersweet longing of the immigrant.”
New York Times Book Review (Editors’ Choice)

“Nunez has created a moving and insightful character study while delving into the complexities of identity politics. Highly recommended.”
Library Journal (Starred review)

“Nunez deftly explores family strife and immigrant identity in her vivid latest . . . with expressive prose and convincing characters that immediately hook the reader.”
Publishers Weekly (Starred review)


Read Elizabeth Nunez’s contribution to “My Caribbean – 5 Vignettes,” which appeared in the November 10, 2013 issue of the New York Times.

Tracing the four days from the moment she gets the call that every immigrant fears to the burial of her mother, Nunez tells the haunting story of her lifelong struggle to cope with the consequences of the “sterner stuff” of her parents’ ambitions for their children, and her mother’s seemingly unbreakable conviction that displays of affection are not for everyday use.

But Nunez sympathizes with her parents, whose happiness is constrained by the oppressive strictures of colonialism, by the Catholic Church’s prohibition of artificial birth control which her mother obeys, terrified by the threat of eternal damnation (her mother gets pregnant fourteen times: nine live births and five miscarriages which almost kill her), and by what Malcolm Gladwell refers to as the “privilege of skin color” in his mother’s Caribbean island homeland where “the brown-skinned classes . . . came to fetishize their lightness.” Still, a fierce love holds this family together, and the passionate, though complex, love Nunez’s parents have for each other will remind readers of the passion between the aging lovers in Gabriel García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera. Written in exquisite prose by a writer the New York Times Book Review calls “a master at pacing and plotting,” Not for Everyday Use is a page-turner that readers will find impossible to put down.

Watch a Skype interview with Elizabeth Nunez here.

Read a Q&A with Elizabeth Nunez at The Practicing Writer.

Click here to listen to an interview with Elizabeth Nunez at The Halli Casser-Jayne Show.

Read an interview with Elizabeth Nunez at the Miami Herald.

Read The Washington Post‘s coverage of the 2015 Hurston/Wright Legacy Awards honoring Elizabeth Nunez here.

Watch Elizabeth Nunez interview by Ronnie M. Eldridge on CUNY TV.


Book Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Published: 4/1/14
  • IBSN: 9781617752339
  • e-IBSN: 9781617752780
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • IBSN: 9781617752346


ELIZABETH NUNEZ immigrated to the US from Trinidad after high school. She is the author of ten novels and the coeditor of the anthology Blue Latitudes: Caribbean Women Writers at Home and Abroad. Nunez received her PhD in English from New York University and is a Distinguished Professor at Hunter College, where she teaches creative writing.

Nunez is cofounder of the National Black Writers Conference and was executive producer for the 2004 Emmy-nominated CUNY TV series, Black Writers in America. Her awards include the 2013 National Council for Research on Women Outstanding Trailblazer Award, the 2013 Caribbean American Distinguished Writer Award, the 2012 Trinidad and Tobago Lifetime Literary Award, and more.

Nunez’s works have been nominated for numerous awards, including the PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Award, the 2012 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Fiction, an International Dublin Literary Award, the Trinidad and Tobago One Book, One Community selection, New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice, Novel of the Year for Black Issues Book Review, an American Book Award, the Independent Publishers Book Award, and several others. Her titles have also received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Library Journal. Her novels Anna In-Between, Even in Paradise, Boundaries, Prospero’s Daughter, Grace, Discretion, and her memoir Not for Everyday Use are published by Akashic Books. Now Lila Knows is her latest novel.

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